I hope you’re doing well and staying safe! This week’s featured essay explores the question of why I build a following (to make friends). I also share some thoughts and a poem on who I write for (my past self).
Quick shoutout to the readers who have already submitted questions in response to last week’s open call to ask me anything. I started by answering the question of how to generate ideas, and will be continuing to work through the most popular questions I get. Keep em coming!
P.S. Final reminder of my upcoming webinar, The Future Belongs to Polymaths, this Tuesday, March 30th at 8AM PST. I’ll be hosted by Luis Giraldo for a webinar exploring how to embrace your inner polymath to future-proof your career.
The following is a preview — you can read the full essay on my blog.
I wasn’t sure how it would feel to have 2,000 followers on Twitter, but I expected to feel something. When it finally happened, I felt nothing. I was surprised by this — when accounts hit a milestone like that, they often share a celebratory tweet (or even use it as cause to do an AMA.) I thought I’d feel the same way, but I didn’t feel motivated to do any of those things. It felt utterly insignificant.
There’s a strange emptiness in reaching a milestone you expected to matter, only to find that it doesn’t. It gave me pause. I slowed my pace in the marathon, and wondered why the hell I’m still running.
I know there’s a reason I was doing this — but it was no longer clear to me. Maybe the prolonged brain fog of a life in lockdown has blurred my vision. Perhaps my motivations have changed. Either way, I needed a reason to stay in the race. The ambiguous hope of algorithmically-determined attention wasn’t enough. I wanted a stronger why.
I thought about the moments I enjoyed most on Twitter. What gave me joy?
I closed my eyes and imagined the meaning hidden within the metrics. Embedded within all those followers was a (much smaller) collection of wonderful human beings that I have tweeted with, conversed with, emailed with, hopped on video calls with, and in some cases gone on to hang out with in person. It’s no exaggeration to say that some of my best friends in real life are people I met on Twitter.
The clarity returned: It’s about the friends, of course! The act of building a following serves us best when used as a means to an end (e.g. making friends), rather than the end goal itself.
We can’t escape the race, but perhaps we can run by our own rules. The way I want to run this race is to prioritize friends over followers…
In a recent Write of Passage course session, we were asked “Who do you write for?” It’s an interesting question that really forces you to clarify who you intend your audience to be. In my case, I write for myself, but a past version of me. A younger me. I write for Little Salman.
Little Salman worked really hard. He studied, he persevered, he persisted. He thought that most of life would be figured out through his hard work. Even when he played, he thought it was a distraction from his true purpose in life. To get good grades → to get a good job → to manage a team → to start a company → to sell a company → to do more, and more and more…
When I write, I want to be the friend, the voice, the guide that Little Salman needed. As I thought about this, a poem came to mind. If I could meet Little Salman, here’s what I’d say to him:
I came here to say,
It’s okay to play
You don’t need to run,
Slow down, have some fun
Forget the rules my friend,
They all lead to a dead end
Hop, skip to your own beat,
Dance away the stiffness in your feet
Your silliness will set you free,
Oh the changes you will see!
Friends will mirror your every smile,
And cheer you on till the last mile
Until then, I’m here by your side
Hugging you tight, through wave and tide
I shared this poem with my fellow WOP cohort, and the next morning saw that Erik Newhard had remixed it into this lovely illustration. We had spoken in the class chatter about how The Little Prince modeled the ideas we were learning so well — to access one’s inner child, and embrace our own wonkiness. I was so moved to see this, and couldn’t have asked for a better tribute. Thank you, Erik!
City Walks — One of the things I miss most about travel is aimlessly wandering around in big cities. I was delighted to discover this incredible web app which lets you virtually walk around in different cities around the world. It even lets you turn on city sounds and toggle day/night mode. Where will you walk today?
Busy Doing Nothing — A while back I shared the logbook of the wonderful creative duo of Rekka and Devine as they journeyed on a ship from Japan to Canada. They’ve since edited and released the logs into a new book, including new drawings. I can’t wait to revisit this — it was one of the most raw, powerful and engrossing stories I’ve ever read.
Twemex — An excellent Chrome extension for using Twitter on the web. It adds a bunch of advanced features and simplifies common search tasks. It helps you recall your own tweets from the past, easily find the best tweets from a given user, and much more.
A parting word:
Don’t let your Evergreen inner critic block your Suez Canal of creativity.
Until next time,